The next time someone whispers in your ear, think "cochlea."
The cochlea is the marvelous structure in the inner ear that is shaped like a snail shell and transforms sounds into the nerve impulses that your brain can process and interpret. You may remember learning about it in elementary school anatomy.
This critical hearing organ consists of a fluid-filled tube about a cubic centimeter (three hundredths of an ounce) in volume. For decades, hearing experts thought that its spiral shape was simply an efficient packing job and its shape had no effect on how it functions. But a recent study headed by Vanderbilt mathematician Daphne Manoussaki calls this conventional wisdom into question. She and her colleagues, Richard Chadwick and Emilios Dimitriadis of the National Institutes of Health, have created a mathematical model of the cochlea that finds the spiral shape acts to enhance the low frequency sounds that we use to communicate with one another. They published the results recently in the journal Physical Review Letters.
David F. Salisbury | EurekAlert!
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